Prep Rally: The best high school receivers and tight ends in Southern California


Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. High school football workouts begin this week. Let’s continue our early look at top players in Southern California with the focus on receivers and tight ends.

T-Mac stands out

Receiver Tetairoa McMillan of Servite.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

There’s no debate about the No. 1 receiver in Southern California. That’s how much respect Tetairoa McMillan, otherwise known as T-Mac, has earned catching passes for Servite. At 6 feet 4, 185 pounds, with the athleticism to make 36 kills in a volleyball match, he’s the biggest challenge for any cornerback. Mater Dei picked up six pass interference penalties trying to slow him down in the spring.


Kevin Green of Bishop Alemany is a USC commit who’s in his fourth season as a varsity standout. Larry Turner-Gooden, a St. Bernard transfer, joins Green at Alemany. Makai Lemon of Los Alamitos and Mikey Matthews of Mission Viejo are terrific juniors who don’t drop passes. CJ Williams of Mater Dei is set to be the Monarchs’ senior passing standout.

Braden Pegan of San Juan Hills is a physical, aggressive UCLA commit. JT Thompson of Harvard-Westlake is a 47-foot triple jumper. Jacoby Kelly of Loyola and Chedon James of St. John Bosco are coming off strong spring performances. Eric Denham of Corona Centennial was tough to stop all summer. Sophomore Chase Farrell of Oaks Christian has been explosive this summer, as has Culver City junior Ethan Harris. Juniors Jordan Ross of Garden Grove Pacifica and Matthew Morrell of Cypress are athletes to watch. Two-way standout Jake East of Agoura catches passes anywhere.

For tight end, the spring player of the year was Matayo Uiagalelei of St. John Bosco, and there’s every indication to believe the 6-5, 260-pound junior will be better than ever this fall. Cody Hoffman, a two-sport standout at Channel Islands, had an impressive spring season catching passes. Keyan Burnett of Servite is a big-time recruit who can’t be overlooked.

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Bryce Young in demand

Former Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young is in demand at Alabama.
(Mark Boster/For the Times)

During a speech at the Texas High School Coaches Assn. convention, Alabama coach Nick Saban revealed that former Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Bryce Young has been taking advantage of new NIL rules.

Set to start for Alabama, Young is much in demand.

“Our QB has already approached ungodly numbers, and he hasn’t even played yet,” Saban said.

Here’s the story from J. Brady McCollough.

City Section begins practices

Dorsey football coach Stafon Johnson was hired in 2019 but will finally coach his first game next month.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

In December 2019, former USC and Dorsey High running back Stafon Johnson was hired as football coach at his high school alma mater. Thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, he’s yet to coach in a game.

It does appear that Johnson is finally ready to make his Dorsey head coaching debut. “Yeah, we’re going to have a football team this year,” he said last week.


Dorsey is up to more than 40 varsity players going into the start of practice on Monday. “I’m expecting more to come out once school starts,” Johnson said.

Dorsey was one of 16 City Section teams that opted out of playing football last spring. Most of those schools will resume their programs but there are others continuing to struggle.

Here’s a report on the Dons.

Here’s a story on the obstacles LAUSD athletes continue to face.

Venice focusing on defense

Venice football coach Angelo Gasca on his electric bike last spring. He likes his defense this fall.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Angelo Gasca begins his 22nd season as head football coach at Venice on Monday. He always has been known for producing high-powered offenses and effective quarterbacks, including the likes of the Diamont brothers, Luca and Zander, J.P. Losman and last spring’s starter, Sam Vaulton.

So what in the world is happening to Gasca when he’s raving about the potential of his team’s defense? Not playing good defense always has forced the offense to try to overcome defensive deficiencies.

But Gasca says, “We’re going to have an excellent defense for the second year in a row.”

Here’s the link to a look at the Gondoliers.

Agoura QB makes progress

Ty Dieffenbach of Agoura was thrust into a starting quarterback role during the spring with little experience and little time to learn how to play the position after being a receiver. Now that he’s had an off season, the 6-foot-4 Dieffenbach could be ready to take a major jump.

“He’s made a huge step,” coach Dustin Croick said.

Dieffenbach passed for 867 yards and nine touchdowns during the six-game spring season. He’s got his top receiver back in Jake East, so watch out for the improvement he might make this fall.

Carlos Rivera returns

Birmingham two-way line starter Carlos Rivera.
Birmingham two-way line starter Carlos Rivera is ready for his senior year after a broken collarbone sidelined him in the first game last spring.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

At 6 feet 3, 285 pounds and starting for the fourth consecutive season on varsity, Carlos Rivera of Birmingham is ready to cause lots of problems for the opposition as he plays on the offensive and defensive lines.

He’s motivated because, after waiting months to finally get the clearance to play because of COVID-19 restrictions, he broke his collarbone in the first six minutes of the opening spring game, ending his season. He had surgery, and there’s a big scar below his shoulder to prove it.

“I was sad, but I’ve been waiting for the comeback,” he said.

Here’s the link to look at Rivera’s comeback.

Kayvon coming to Hollywood

USC QB Kedon Slovis (9) is tackled by Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.
USC QB Kedon Slovis (9) is tackled by Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The star of Tuesday’s Pac-12 football media day in Hollywood should be former Oaks Christian and Dorsey defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the standout Oregon defensive player who could be one of the top five players taken in the 2022 NFL draft.

Thibodeaux is always a good interviewee and it will be fun watching him hold court.

There’s other players from Southern California who will represent their schools, include Cal’s Chase Garbers (Corona del Mar), Arizona’s Anthony Pandy (Narbonne), ASU’s Jayden Daniels (Cajon), Stanford’s Michael Wilson (Chaminade), USC’s Drake London (Moorpark) and Washington’s Trent McDuffie (St. John Bosco)

World champion wrestler

Katie Gomez of Birmingham High won the U16 Cadet freestyle world championship in wrestling in Budapest, Hungary.
(Randy Miller)

Katie Gomez, one of the City Section’s top female wrestlers from Lake Balboa Birmingham, will have quite a story to tell when friends and teachers ask, “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

Gomez won the U16 Cadet freestyle world championship for 53 kilos (116.8 pounds) by defeating her Russian opponent 10-0 on Friday in Budapest, Hungary. She earlier scored victories over opponents from Hungary, India and Turkey.

“It was an amazing experience,” Gomez said.

“She’s really explosive and fast,” Birmingham coach Jimmy Mederios said of the two-time City individual champion. “She has a lot of offensive weapons. She can do a multitude of moves.”

Future golf star

Alexis Faieta of Tujunga won the Optimist International Junior Golf championship for 13-14 division in Florida.
Alexis Faieta of Tujunga won the Optimist International Junior Golf championship for 13-14 division in Florida.
(Tina K VaLant


The next top girls’ high school golfer from Southern California could be Alexis Faieta of Tujunga. She won the Optimist International Junior Golf championship in the girls’ 13-14 age group in Florida, leading from start to finish. She finished two-over-par.

Faieta is scheduled to begin classes next month at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame for her freshman year.

JuJu Watkins leaves Windward

Juju Watkins has left Windward for Sierra Canyon.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

When the nation’s top girls’ basketball player from the class of 2023 switches high schools, it’s big news.

So understand what the impact will be with Juju Watkins leaving Windward for Sierra Canyon.

“It means we got a lot better,” Sierra Canyon coach Alicia Komaki said.

Watkins was The Times’ player of the year as a freshman. Sierra Canyon had two top freshmen play this past season. Combine them with Watkins and now the Trailblazers have to be a threat to Corona Centennial for the Open Division title next season.

Olympic update

His mother was born in Japan. His grandmother lives about an hour from Tokyo.

So first-time Olympic water polo player Johnny Hooper, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Japan and graduated from Harvard-Westlake, was excited about the opportunity to represent the U.S before family and friends at the Tokyo Games.

But with Japan in a state of emergency and no spectators allowed because of COVID-19, Hooper, an attacker, is prepared to compete with them watching from home when the U.S. opens play Sunday against Japan.

Here’s the link to a profile on Hooper.

Notes . . .

Elene Torres of Santa Ana Foothill, one of the top girls’ lacrosse players in the Southern Section, has committed to Villanova. . . .

Running back Derek Boyd, who started playing for Canoga Park, then transferred to Oaks Christian, is now at Lawndale for his senior year. . . .

Burbank Providence basketball coach Brandon Lincoln has resigned to become the athletic director at Pasadena La Salle under new principal Jamal Adams, the former Loyola basketball coach. . . .

St. Paul has hired Patrick Roy as its basketball coach. Roy spent 25 years as head coach at Inglewood. . . .

Mikey Williams, who was a high school basketball player at San Ysidro near San Diego until he left town, is trying to make money off NIL and his 3.2 million Instagram followers by signing with an agency group. He won’t be able to play high school basketball team but he can play for a club program. . . .

The Trinity League football media day is back. It will take place Aug. 6 in Long Beach. It was a big hit when last held in 2019. . . .

COVID-19 issues have not gone away. Lakewood has closed down its campus until Aug. 9 after several students tested positive during summer school. Athletes and coaches are scrambling to find alternative sites and get tested so they can begin preseason workouts as scheduled. . . .

Saugus won the Huntington Beach seven-on-seven tournament championship, defeating El Modena in the final. Downey won the Arroyo tournament. . . .

Former Simi Valley Grace Brethren football coach Josh Henderson is new head coach at Immanuel Christian in Reedley.

Lacrosse honors

USA Lacrosse has honored the top high school players for boys and girls.

Here’s the link for boys’ honors.

Here’s the link for girls’ honors.

From the archives: Katie Lou Samuelson

Katie Lou Samuelson was one of the all-time great girls’ basketball players from California. She graduated from Santa Ana Mater Dei, starred at UCONN and was drafted No. 4 overall by the Chicago Sky in the 2019 WNBA draft.

She was scheduled represent the United States in the three on three competition at the Olympic Games in Tokyo until she had to pull out because of COVID-19 protocols.

She once made 10 threes and scored 41 points in a 2014 basketball games in Arizona.

“I love the pressure. Nothing fazes me,” she said.

Here’s video when she was the Gatorade player of the year in 2014-15.

Here’s a story from 2015 when she was The Times’ player of the year.


From Texashsfootball, a column on the impact positive thinking can have.

From EdSource, a story on California cutting the number of tests teachers must take to earn credentials, which could lead to more teacher/coaches.

From the Las Vegas Sun, a story on a Las Vegas High coach getting the opportunity to spend three weeks at an NFL camp with as a Bill Wash Coaching Fellow.

From the New York Times, a story on COVID-19 disrupting basketball tournament.

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Until next time...

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